Colorado pediatric hospitals experience surges in RSV

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Collegian | Trin Bonner

Mattison Brumagim

Alexander Wilson, Social Media Coordinator

Nov. 11, Gov. Jared Polis extended the COVID-19 disaster declaration to better support hospitals in Colorado with an abnormal influx of cases of respiratory syncytial virus.

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, medical professionals had to set up a tent outside the hospital to treat less severe cases because of the lack of available beds.

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“Our pediatric unit is nearly at capacity,” CEO of the Banner Health Northern Colorado region Alan Qualls said in a statement. “Once we discharge a patient, we have one ready to take (their) place.”

RSV is very dangerous for younger children, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised. RSV is the leading cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in infants.

Some symptoms of RSV include a runny nose, loss of appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing. Most children have RSV before the age of two years old. However, it can be deadly. 

RSV can be spread similarly to COVID-19 through coughs, sneezes, surfaces and kissing. A person can be contagious for a day or two before showing symptoms. 

The Colorado Hospital Association announced the reactivation of the Combined Hospital Transfer Center Nov. 9, which was used during the pandemic to match enough beds for the extreme amount of patients and hadn’t been used since March

“Polis signed an executive order amending and extending the current COVID-19 disaster declaration to include RSV, influenza and other respiratory illnesses,” Public Health Director for the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment Tom Gonzales said in a press release. “The disaster declaration allows agencies to continue to access state and federal funding for recovery efforts to rapidly respond to changes in the public health environment and to support the healthcare system to remain appropriately staffed and prepared to respond to all healthcare needs.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 60,000-120,000 adults are hospitalized due to RSV, and 6,000-10,000 die from it.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, there have been 367 hospitalizations due to RSV in the Denver metropolitan area Oct. 1-29. 

The executive order also stated 95% of current hospitalizations were pediatric as of Nov. 11.

“Since the end of October, we’re beginning to see significant increases in visits,” said Matt Bower, Colorado regional epidemiologist, in a statement. “In addition, we are seeing additional outbreaks in community settings, and a majority of these (are) occurring in childcare and school setting — over 50% are RSV cases.” 

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The RSV positivity rate is nearly double that of last year’s season as of Nov. 9, but it has yet to hit its peak. The majority of the patients hospitalized currently for RSV are 2-5 years old.

“As of the first of November, we have been in pediatric incident command mode, meaning we’re triaging our patients in Northern Colorado, where we have bed capacity,” said Kevin Unger, the CEO of the UCHealth Northern Region, in a statement. “We’ve certainly seen … a huge surge in RSV cases.” 

“We will continue to serve our community and keep our patients close to home if possible,” Qualls said.

Reach Alexander Wilson at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @alexgrey0604.